Thankyou Caterpillars

By Leon Joffe

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How seldom we are heroes in our women's eyes. More often
When pressured by a hard-boiled mechanic to overpay for repairs
Or when taps leak we cannot fix, we are rewarded not by eyes that soften
But by irritible gestures or sarcasm or silence or glares.


Yesterday we sat in a bushwillow's shade sipping iced water
Laced with lemon; I remarked on the bareness of a rock alder
Ravished by hairy caterpillars black as termite holes and no shorter
Than your slender green fingers. Now the tree, still young, was balder
Than I!  You laughed then said:  but the grove of alders along the path
Past the cottage is just as ruined; and there caterpillars lie at the feet
Of the trees under old bushwillow leaves in black masses; bath-
Fulls of caterpillars, yugh, haven't you seen them crawling their beat
Through the garden these past weeks? But then, typical male,
Blind to everything....come, let me show you how many there are before
The grey cuckoos feast them away, or they pupate, or their bodies grow

We walked towards the cottage, then you stopped, awe
On your seasoned face, and pointed to a small bush with spiky bole
Just off the path.

                   Last year in autumn, nine months away
>From this hot summer, a full-bellied chameleon dug a hole
Near this bush, and vanished inside for one night. At day-
Break she emerged, covered over the hole, then with slow
Satisfied gait went her migrating way. I remember your shouting
To me to watch each event, and you placed a stick to show
Us later where it happened. All year that stick lay rotting
In the garden, forgotten (by me, typical male). But now you knelt
On the path and waved me over to see a tiny hole
Alongside the stick's remains, and said: They've hatched.
                                                          I felt
A child's excitement and expectation, fulfilled the child's role
Of follower as your eyes wandered back to the spiky shrub:
And there like five dewdrops five tiny beings clung to the stems
As though these were mother's breasts; and if one should rub
One's fingers across their little bodies one would erase them,
So fine were their arms and legs, like silk, and miniature eyes
Rotating as one's finger draws near, and tails coiled and clinging.
Caterpillars forgotten we knelt and stared and surmised
As to how many others there may be, and were close to singing.

Towards evening the dewdrops melted away, but we weren't there
To see, then last night by torchlight we found them on other plants and
One to each, as though they had held a meeting, and each knew where
To go; but one was on a tendril in a tangled creeper, and the breeze
Blew it back and forth.
                        This morning it was still swaying there. I asked
How it could find food that way. We were rushing to work, I in my new
But I found a stick and knelt and coaxed it onto the stick, gripped by the
Of finding it a better position, like a saviour or job agency. Its
          fingers caught
The stick, its legs one by one slowly unfolded onto the stick, then its
Curved around the stick until fingers, legs and tail gave it full support
So that when I raised it it wasn't afraid but stared at me from a pale
Rotating eye with dark pinpoint centre. I barged through our bush
Looking for a perch, then found a tiny alder with some
Leaves, low enough for a creature to crawl off in a rush
Should some bird or cat be prowling, and coaxed it with my thumb
Until it was clinging to a new home.
                                    Someone was watching me. I whirled
Around and there you were, I had forgotten you all this while,
And there was something in your eyes I hadn't seen before. My heart
Like a ballerina but couldn't speak, so shy I'd become, and your smile
Was coy and full of admiration; then silently you turned to your car.
I stood up shaking, shaking leaves from my new suit. So now I knew
What it took to be a hero, and how it was.


                                    Tonight, my love, you will be my star
And I yours; there are countless stars in heaven, but on earth too few.

Converted to HTML by Renette Davis with permission from the author Leon Joffe, whose wife Pitta has Huntington's Disease.

Send comments to Renette by clicking: here.

Last updated: Dec. 7, 2010